War. Revenge. Intrigue. Secrets. Magic. Everything you love about Brent Weeks' Lightbringer Series continues in THE BROKEN EYE.
This is what you've been waiting for.
Like I said with THE BLINDING KNIFE (EBR review), trying to read BROKEN without having read the previous books will leave you lost and floundering, the sequence of events lacking real impact. If you love epic fantasy with complex characters, creative world-building, and fast-paced action, then yes you should read this series, starting with THE BLACK PRISM (EBR review) (read the first three chapters for free here!). What follows will contain spoilers if you read them out of order. You have been warned.
At the end of BLINDING everything changes for our heroes. Gavin has lost his ability to draft and now finds himself a slave on a pirate ship's galley. Kip escapes sociopathic half-brother Zymun to return to the Chromeria a changed man. Teia finds herself mixed up with a group of fanatic vigilantes, her ex-slave status in jeopardy. Karris mourns the disappearance of her husband, but must find a new purpose to her life as the wife of the Prism.
A lot happens in BROKEN, covering months as Gavin tries to escape, Kip continues his training, and Lord Guile manipulates the politics of the Chromeria. Without Gavin there and the White's health quickly deteriorating, no one can check Lord Guile's ambitions. But I'll be honest with you, despite a lot happening, BROKEN feels like a middle-of-the-story novel. The pace slows for almost the entire book as characters' situations are suspended in uncertainty. Will Gavin escape? Should Kip trust his grandfather? What is the White's plans for Karris? Is Teia entrapping herself to the Order of the Broken Eye?
Part of the cause of this slower pacing is a focus on the politics of war and power. Certainly there's the Chromeria, but what happens when the Prism disappears and there's a vacuum of power? What happens when a (supposedly) altruistic Color Prince makes his way through the various countries to free them from the thumb of an oppressive Chromeria--but will do anything and kill anyone in order to achieve his goals?
Another reason for the slower pace is the in-depth character development. After two books of setting up our characters and who they are, BROKEN delves into what makes our heroes tick. I really, really enjoyed this about BROKEN, when usually extra characterization is something that drives me batty because nothing happens--fortunately Weeks's characterization is never boring. I was hooked as I watched Kip struggle with the changes in Lord Guile and try to reconcile the loss of his father with his current standing among his peers (as a result of the last battle in BLINDING)--all with his usual snark. I loved that there was more Karris screen time and how she becomes involved in the White's spy network. Teia is a fascinating character whose self-doubt isn't annoying, and she fights to overcome it in realistic ways. Weeks is fantastic with his female characters, they are truly well done. Gavin's struggle to not be bogged down by discouragement in his situation was frankly inspiring. Unfortunately, though, we don't see much of Liv, and only hear secondhand accounts of the Color Prince's army and their exploits. But I'm hoping that in following books we aren't left in the dark about our villains.
There isn't as much world-building this time around as in the last two books, although there's some new tidbits that will satisfy even the most staunch epic fantasy readers. Weeks carries forward the loose threads from BLINDING and adds to them, weaving into the story exciting new possibilities.
Weeks also seems to have more control of his action sequences, making it feel less showy and more like what I'd expect from these characters and what we know they can do--alone and as a team. There was tension, excitement, surprises (Weeks can't help himself when it comes to his twists and surprises). And of course the consequences that we may not yet see the whole of for some time. As a result the conclusion, as in past books, was amazing and game-changing. I'm eagerly anticipating THE BLOOD MIRROR...2016 can't come fast enough.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A few f-bombs per chapter
Violence: Several violent episodes, variously bloody
Sex: Referenced; teenage hormones
Find this exciting series here:
THE BLACK PRISM
THE BLINDING KNIFE
THE BROKEN EYE
The latest in Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series has her heroine face her most terrifying adversary yet. This opponent is tougher than the river devil that almost killed her; more cunning than the local vampire queen; and a better baker than Mercy herself: Adam's ex-wife Christy.
Christy comes running to the Tri-Cities werewolf pack for a reason. She's being stalked by a dangerous playboy she met in Vegas who won't take "No" for an answer, who's knocked Christy around, and who may have been the one to kill her boyfriend. Unfortunately he turns out to be more than your run-of-the-mill psycho guy, and it's Mercy and the pack who must deal with the fallout.
Seriously, this series only gets better and better. In NIGHT BROKEN Briggs isn't afraid to shake things up for Mercy, who despite being a confident woman experiences some self-doubt when faced with the near-perfection that is Christy. Many of the pack feel protective over their alpha's ex-wife, her skills of manipulation and victimhood even messes with Mercy's head. It's been no mystery that some of the pack don't like Mercy and feel that a coyote shifter doesn't belong in the hierarchy. Will Christy successfully worm her way back into Adam's good graces and cause havoc with Mercy's standing in the pack?
Then, of course there's the mystery surrounding Christy's stalker. Where did he come from? Who is he really? And why is is so focused on Christy? Is he somehow related to the killings the local police want to pin on the werewolves? The clues begin to stack up and when Christy's stalker visits Mercy at her garage she discovers that he's more than he seems...a lot more, and it's scary enough that she wonders if they will ever be able to solve Christy's problem.
We get to see old friends and meet a few new ones. Other than the pack regulars, we get to see Stephan back in form, Tad returns as cool as ever, and even Coyote has to be called for help when a Grey Lord comes asking for the fae walking stick that used to follow Mercy around.
I enjoyed watching Mercy as she moved through the story, reacted to events, interacted with friends and enemies, and then proceeded to do what she does best: doing whatever it takes to keep her family safe. If you're a fan of the series then NIGHT BROKEN is a must read.
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: A couple of scenes, one kind of gruesome
Find this awesome series here:
I've been thinking about the concept that lies at the crux of this review for quite a while now. I've come across it a couple times in the recent past--the most recent while watching Disney's Frozen--and each time my realization as to why I wasn't enjoying the story as much as I should have been eluded me for quite a while. Hopefully I've learned something about this concept after having seen it in action for the third time.
BLOOD AND IRON is the first in a new fantasy series by Jon Sprunk and feels like a step in the “larger” direction after his Shadow Saga novels. This novel immediately felt bigger to me, as the story being told was about large-scale wars, and nations, and phenomenal cosmic powers (bonus points for the reference on that last one...).
The story begins with Horace--a soldier from the west--in the midst of a storm at sea, and en route to a war with the foreign Akeshians. Instead of war though, he finds his way to solitary capture, enslavement, and then to opulent establishment. This due to the fact that he's a latent sorcerer, and comes into power after coming to this new land.
Also at the forefront of the story is Jirom, an ex-mercenary from far-off Zaral, that is biding his time as a gladiator until he can find his way to freedom. Quickly though he meets Horace and is affected by him in a way that he can barely describe. Their meeting and time together is brief, but after they part he finds himself seeking out this man from the west.
Two women also share some of the page time, although considerably less than Horace and Jirom. Byleth, queen of Akeshia, and Alyra, her hand-maiden and court spy for forces outside of the reigning nobility.
The strengths of the novel are easily the amount of action and overall pacing. These are strengths that Sprunk brought from his previous novels. The dude knows how to write action. The story jumps from one scene to the next and there's always something happening. If I'm being honest, some of the action near the beginning of the book felt a little forced. With Horace getting overly angry and lashing out without thinking about what he was doing. Almost like something was driving him to be angry, and I was hoping that it wasn't just the author needing to throw some more action in. A couple times I was pretty surprised when Horace's captors didn't just off him, as other slaves around him were getting some pretty steep punishments indeed. Still, good action, good pacing.
Something that Sprunk improved on in this book over his previous trilogy was his descriptions. There were very few times when I was reading and wouldn't know where a character was, or who was in a scene. Especially some of the more large-scale descriptions about the countryside through which Horace traveled while getting to his ultimate destination were well-done. They portrayed a good sense of scale for the world in which the characters reside.
World-building was completed on a similar scale, although not in quite as much detail. There is some sense of history and larger battles being fought between forces both external and internal to Akeshia. This aspect could definitely have been better and would have been the perfect fit to Byleth's character, if more time had been spent with her.
One of the weakest aspects of the book was the magic system. Horribly cliched: earth, wind, fire, and air-based magics, with a bit of a void-magic to boot. Even though there is time for Horace to be taught, for him to develop his powers (which is good--I hate it when newbies are never really newbies), the magic falls completely short of being anything approaching interesting. Only very basic ideas about how the magic is controlled are approached, and it felt like anything he could come up with could feasibly be whipped out at a moment's notice. The magic saves Horace's bacon repeatedly with him having no notion of what he's doing or how he's accomplishing it. Quite frustrating.
The crux of the problems with this story falls to a single issue: this story doesn't belong to Horace. It is, in fact, Queen Byleth's. In much the same way that the story in Frozen belongs to Elsa (Think about it--if you've seen it. Whose choices does every significant branch of that story turn on? Elsa's. Also, it's no coincidence that the story is based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. Aka: not Anna.), the story told in BLOOD AND IRON belongs to Queen Byleth and not Horace.
And yet, Horace is ostensibly the main character, as he gets the most face time in the book. Even the summary on the back of the book focuses on Horace and the changes that he's going to make to Akeshia. The really difficult part is that Byleth gets so little POV time that it's hard to even realize that it's her story until nearly the very end. Even more difficult is the fact that Horace and Jirom don't even feel like secondary characters, because they're not directly influencing anything to do with the main story line. Instead, they end up feeling kind of like cameras, sent to show us what is happening along the way. Horace hangs out with Queen Byleth and we see what she is doing and what is going on in court, and Jirom hangs out with a group of rebels and we see what they are doing in the battle against the ruling nobility. This makes Horace and Jirom boring, even if we do see lots of action and interesting things through their eyes. Alyra was a great secondary character though, with her own motivations and fears, that interacted with the queen's story at a very basic level.
Although I gave this one a fairly low rating overall, I think that things could totally be saved by addressing the single issue of who the story belongs to. There are some really good aspects of this novel and others that show marked improvement over previous books. I mean, come on. If Disney can make a mistake like telling a story from the wrong character's perspective, then I think anyone can. The important part will be the process of learning from the past and doing better next time, and that is something that I think Mr. Sprunk has proven that he can do. Because he's done it with every book he's written. Progress and improvement are hallmarks of the best.
Recommended Age: 16+, profanity and violence
Profanity: Somewhat sparse, but it can got strong a few times
Violence: Crazy violent during the battles and gladiator fights
Sex: Some implied relations, no scenes though
BLOOD AND IRON
I’ve been on the look-out for novels similar to those of Larry Correia's Monster Hunter series and Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger novels. I love the mix of Military Thriller with SF/Fantasy/Whatever. It didn’t have to be magic, but I needed something that was contemporary, actiony, and with speculative elements in it.
Enter Weston Ochse’s GRUNT LIFE. Ochse is best known these days for SEAL TEAM 666, and because of the movie deal that was announced, his name was already in my head when GRUNT LIFE arrived, courtesy of Solaris. I was still waiting for my copy of SEAL TEAM 666 to arrive in the mail, so I figured I’d give GRUNT LIFE a chance in the meantime.
The novel is told using the First Person PoV in the head of Benjamin Mason. He’s career military, but has reached the point where he is about to take his own life. This is the opening scene of the novel. It’s not white-knuckle, but rather sobering. Instead of dying (spoiler!), he is recruited to be part of a special military task force—Task Force OMBRA. Why? Because aliens have already begin invading—a bug-like race dubbed the Cray. OMBRA has been quietly dealing with their advance scouts for a while, but they fear the main invasion is coming.
And it does.
The first half of the novel is about the members of the task force—all damaged in some way, shape and form—training and prepping. The second half is about the Cray invasion. It’s all very harsh and brutal.
Ochse has an excellent narrative voice. Line to line, paragraph to paragraph, page to page. It’s all extremely smooth. I never had to go back and reread a section for clarity—though I did reread sections because of how much I enjoyed a turn of phrase, or a character moment. The action—and there is a TON of it—is super clear and effortless to follow.
But what this novel really comes down to is the characters. The grunts. Without good characters, this novel would have failed utterly, no matter how well done the action was. Ochse does some very interesting things with his main character, Mason. Typically, the main character of a novel like this would be the good guy. The one that everyone likes. Everyone else has the real character flaws. Not so here. Mason is a bit of a jerk. He’s self-centered. He’s not the favorite of his squad. This gives huge opportunities to present the reader with character growth, and Ochse takes advantage of it.
The side characters are all interesting in their own ways, and it’s cool to have their backstories revealed as the book progresses. I’m not going to get into those detail much, since it’s best if you read them yourself in the novel. The main thing here is that all the characters have different politics and religious outlooks. It would have been real easy for Ochse to make these people one-note with respect to belief systems, but he didn’t. And I never felt like I was having the author’s personal views shoved onto me—something that has been a huge problem in fiction lately.
Honestly, I don’t have hardly anything negative to say. If there is one quibble, it’s that there are a few times where characters don’t quite react like they’ve been built up in the novel. You come to expect certain reactions, and then when those reactions don’t happen, it’s super jarring. But that’s it.
Weston Ochse is an awesome author. I put his stuff next to Correia and Maberry without hesitation. While I was curious about Ochse’s work before, now I’m excited to read it. All of it. It's pretty easy to see that Ochse is one of the better authors for action SF out there, and GRUNT LIFE was an absolute blast to read.
Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: A bunch.
Violence: Tons. Extremely well described.
Sex: Conversations about it, one very brief—but undetailed—scene.
Go pick up GRUNT LIFE. You’ll love it. Here’s your link.
Celia has been asked to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of the century: her siren cousin the princess Adrianna is marrying the king of Rusland. Celia has been chosen not simply because she's Adrianna's cousin, but also because the bride-to-be has already survived one attempt on her life and Celia's bodyguard experience may just save the day.
You see, not everyone in Rusland is pleased about the upcoming nuptials, and are convinced that Adrianna has bewitched their king using dark siren magic. And they'll do anything to stop the wedding.
But that isn't the extent of Celia's problems: she's on the outs with former co-worker John Creede, her boyfriend Bruno's ex-girlfriend is determined to get him back, and her own gran is hiding an unpleasant secret from her. Celia does what she can to get by, but it seems that life is ganging up on her.
THE ELDRITCH CONSPIRACY is book 5 of the Blood Singer novel series by Cat Adams, and continues the story of Celia Graves, who does bodyguard work for a living, but as of book 1 being attacked by a vampire changed her life: she's not only part-vampire, but her siren abilities were awakened.
The opening chapter is confusing, and I had to re-check the series order to make sure I didn't miss a book. Her relationship with John Creede has become strained and we find that her relationship with former flame Bruno is back on. I felt like I was dumped into the middle of the story, and the love triangle isn't ever really addressed in this book--here's hoping it will be in the next, because it's the development of such things that lady readers want mapped out in a series like this.
I also had a hard time keeping track of characters, it's been over a year since I read the last book (EBR review for ISIS COLLAR here) and I got lost easily with not only the characters, but also events from past books. A little refresher here and there would have helped, but maybe it's just me.
The good thing about this particular book is that plot itself is handled better than even previous books, the progression of events felt more natural and less arbitrary. Also, Adams' characterization across the series is well done, with Celia's progression and even the progression of secondary characters: they grow and change, for better or worse.
The series is only now growing on me, and here we are on book 5. It's taken a while to get to this point, when I'm usually the kind of person to drop a series if the first book doesn't pique my interest--but that's the concession we EBR reviews make for our readers. I will be reading TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL soon and hope that ELDRITCH is a sign of things to come.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A handful of instances
Violence: A few fights, nothing gruesome
The books in the Blood Singer series:
THE ISIS COLLAR
THE ELDRITCH CONSPIRACY